We have a lot of things in common with our furry friends, but one of the least pleasant is that both humans and pets can get Lyme disease. You and your dogs’ chances of getting Lyme disease increase in the summer, as the population of ticks increases and we spend more time in their habitats.
Lyme disease is the most common disease transmitted to dogs from ticks. Ticks have three life stages: larva, nymph and adult. In each stage, they feed by sucking blood from animals. Ticks become infected with Lyme disease through biting infected rodents or other animals. Most Lyme disease is transmitted by nymphal ticks, which are smaller than poppy seeds and difficult to detect. These tiny creatures take their meal of blood and then drop off the host. Their bites are painless; consequently, they may be difficult to detect.
Lyme disease in dogs results in inflammation of the joints and is most commonly characterized by a sudden onset of lameness. Sometimes, the lameness is acute and may last only a few days. It will then recur within a few weeks. In some cases, the lameness may become chronic and last for an extended period of time. The lameness may shift from one leg to another, and joints become painful to the touch. Some dogs also experience fever, lethargy, loss of appetite and weight loss. If not treated, Lyme disease may lead to an inflammation of the kidneys, a condition called Glomerulonephritis that leads to kidney failure.
If you suspect your dog may have Lyme disease, visit your veterinarian immediately. Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics. The prognosis depends on the severity of the disease. Unfortunately, some dogs may experience a lifetime of joint pain, which may require a treatment plan involving pain management.
The smartest way to handle Lyme disease is to work to prevent it. Lyme disease may be prevented by ensuring your dog is on a tick-preventative medication year round. Not all preventatives are effective against all species of ticks, so first it’s important to know the type of ticks most commonly found in Virginia (or wherever you and your dogs live and play). According to the Department of Entomology of Virginia Tech, the most commonly found species of ticks in Virginia are Brown Dog Ticks, Lone Star Ticks and Deer Ticks. It is vitally important that dog owners talk with their veterinarians about the appropriate preventative for their dogs.
Prescription medications purchased from a veterinary practice are the best solution for preventing Lyme disease in your pets. We don’t say this to make vets more money – it’s because the source of the product matters. First, the preventatives should be prescription strength, as prescribed by your vet. Next, manufacturers and the vets who sell their products correctly control the conditions in which the medications are stored; in fact, the manufacturers of these medications will only guarantee the results if they’re purchased from a veterinarian. Unfortunately, in our practice, we see many patients who have had problems with their tick-preventatives not working well – preventatives they purchased from a source outside of their veterinary practice. These preventatives have no manufacturer’s guarantee and their effectiveness in preventing ticks and Lyme disease can be dubious at best. Sadly, the pet owner is then faced with the added cost of treating Lyme disease.
So this summer, as you prepare for swimming, exploring, camping, or just playing in the yards with your dogs, be sure to safeguard your dogs against ticks. Prevention is everything in avoiding the serious condition of Lyme disease.
Dr. Gerri S. Reid is the medical director of the Thomas Beath Veterinary Hospital (www.beathvets.com). She also managed a Banfield Hospital in Fredericksburg. Dr. Reid works with clients to help them find affordable solutions for the care of their pets. She has two children and one very cute, little, mixed-breed dog.